Kashmir is like the holy grail of diplomacy. Almost every politician with an imagined or real stake in the dispute dreams of finding a solution to it and, thus, becoming immortal in the hallowed annals of history.
The quest has singed many politicians and statesmen in the past. It ruined Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy, shattered Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s ambitions of holidaying in the meadows of Gulmarg, destroyed the careers of many Pakistani generals and premiers, and broke the heart of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, whose Kashmir peace initiative was sabotaged by the Pakistani deep state with the Kargil misadventure.
If the quest for sorting out the unfinished business of Partition, as Pakistan loves to call the dispute, could be so tempting for lesser politicians, imagine how a megalomaniac with an exaggerated sense of power and sway over the world would be craving to be the messiah with a magical solution to the Kashmir conundrum.
So, it should not surprise anyone that US president Donald Trump has offered himself as an arbiter in the dispute. Trump has the audacity to offer quick-fixes to almost every problem in the world. If re-elected, he has promised to eradicate AIDS, find a cure for cancer and land his country’s astronauts on Mars. By comparison, Trump must be thinking, Kashmir is a cinch. For him, it would be a Noble Peace Prize waiting for his arrival as some sort of deus ex machina to sort the mess for two grateful nations.
Trump’s latest claim, denounced subsequently as an embarrassing faux pas by his own country, that India asked him to mediate the Kashmir dispute should be seen in this context. At a meeting with the visiting Pakistani premier Imran Khan, the US president on Tuesday (July 23) said his help was sought by India and he would love to be the mediator if he could help.
Trump is obviously talking to himself like the sorting hat at Hogwarts, except that nobody seems to have asked for his help or mediation. It is more an expression of his desire, a statement of his intent in the pursuit of the holy grail of diplomacy.
For India, the rules of engagement are settled: Kashmir doesn’t warrant the intervention of a third party, it has to be discussed bilaterally by India and Pakistan. This settlement was written in stone at Simla, after Pakistan’s president Bhutto signed a peace treaty with Indira Gandhi to reverse some of the consequences of the 1971 war his country lost to India.
According to the agreement, “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them. Pending the final settlement of any of the problems between the two countries, neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organization, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations.”
The same decision was ratified in spirit during the 1999 Lahore Declaration signed by Vajpayee and Sharif when the two prime ministers reiterated the determination of both countries to implementing the Simla Agreement in letter and spirit.
It is impossible to imagine that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have even used the words mediate, US and Kashmir in one sentence to Trump. It would have been a gigantic blunder that would have decimated Modi’s legacy and image. Obviously, there is a problem either with what Trump heard or with what he is saying. If not for the compulsions of diplomacy and its language, India would have called Trump some uncharitable names. But, the foreign ministry is letting the matter rest by saying a request to mediate was never made to Trump.
In Freedom at Midnight, the brilliant documentation of India’s independence and subsequent partition, Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins recount that on October 26, 1947, VP Menon poured out a stiff drink to the then British deputy high commissioner at his Delhi residence. As they raised a toast, Menon remarked: “We have Kashmir. The b***d signed the Act of Accession. And now that we have got it, we will never let it go.”
Menon, the ICS officer who helped Sardar Patel negotiate with princely states, had just returned from Srinagar. With the Pakistani army and tribal warlords almost at the gates of the Jhelum Bridge in Srinagar, he had managed to convince Dogra king Hari Singh to merge his state with India. The prophesy he made that day has survived three wars—1947, 1965 and 1971, the Kargil intrusion and years of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the Valley.
Trump, or for that matter anyone who thinks the Kashmir dispute can be resolved by a mediator, doesn’t understand India’s geopolitical concerns, its complicated history and politics. History, geography, and demographics have come together in such a way that India can’t cede even an inch of Kashmir. New Delhi can never request a third country’s help on Kashmir.
India’s concerns are well-documented. One, there can’t be another round of Partition. The very idea of a Muslim-majority state seceding is destructive for India’s social and communal edifice. Two, India’s natural borders get hugely compromised if Kashmir’s defence and security are not in New Delhi’s hands. Three, India is surrounded by three Islamic countries that have not just been wrecked by terrorism but have also served as catchment areas for jihadis. There is no way India can afford another unstable state in its backyard with the potential for becoming a lab for ISIS or al-Qaeda.
Kashmir’s fate, as far as India is concerned, is settled. It is an undisputed part of India, its integral territory. India, of course, needs to do a lot to assimilate Kashmiris, address their concerns, safeguard human rights and offer a new deal to its youth and political class. But, all these are India’s internal problems that are unlikely to reach Trump’s table ever.